The human element is missing from many of our current digital tools. Instant messaging, file sharing, and other digital communication applications are essential for productivity. They’re not hurting businesses, necessarily — increasing productivity is a good thing. But those tools aren’t helping as much as they could, either. They aren’t conducive to fostering the deeper engagement among teammates that will have them collaborating like best friends.
Yet companies are trying to fit square pegs into round holes by encouraging the use of productivity tools as relationship-building ones.
For one, companies assume everyone reads everything in the newsletter or on the intranet. Organizations that do so risk making decisions that have major impacts on the work experience that were ‘announced,’ although not everyone was aware of them. Similarly, modern companies are putting all their eggs in one basket. When important announcements come down, they need a multifaceted approach that includes a newsletter, in-person communication, short videos, and real-time communication via mobile-centric apps.
The Best of Both Worlds
Imagine your company wants to create a new logo. Obviously, creating a companywide participatory process around its design is not practical. But involving more people is more likely to lead to a result that employees are excited to get behind. Perhaps employees could rank finalists for key fonts or colors. Even if you make it a blind vote (that is, the employees can’t see the final tallies), it will create more ownership among employees simply because they participated in the process. People want to feel they are heard.
Here’s how companies should go about redoing their workplace communication systems to both inform and engage:
1. Focus on engagement (not just top-down communication).
Informing employees is important, but as long as you have their attention, you might as well do as much as you can with it. With new tools that allow for interactive, real-time, and multidimensional functionality, internal communication and engagement initiatives are given the power and creativity employees will respond to — and participate in.
2. Measure what works and how it impacts critical business issues.
The semiannual survey is a relic. Most companies would say their employees are their most valuable assets, so it stands to reason they should then be asking for their feedback frequently and learning as much from them as possible.
HR business intelligence today has the ability to analyze sentiment based on syntax and topics of conversation. It can identify the various personas in your company. It can quantify participation levels around individual engagement initiatives and investments to help organizations optimize those strategies. HRBI data can then be correlated with bottom-line impacts on employee retention and performance, revenue, and profitability.
3. Develop a strategy designed to build relatedness.
Above all else, academic research has shown that developing ‘relatedness’ is paramount to building human relationships. Some theorists have even called it a “basic human need that is essential for well-being.” Helping employees discover commonalities — interests, passions, values, experiences, humor, and philanthropic endeavors — are some of the many ways employers can develop more familiarity, a shared identity, and trust with others in the company.
4. Give the people what they want.
The kind of content that helps build relatedness — and, with it, the trust at the heart of a highly engaged workforce — is mobile-centric (not on desktops), immediately familiar and welcoming, and simple to use. Further, video is a crucial aspect of modern engagement initiatives — at least, it should be.
Consider the differences between dial-in phone meetings and video chats. When you can see the person you’re speaking to, you can pick up on all kinds of nonverbal cues and mannerisms that not only make communication easier, but also humanize the person on the other end of the conversation. The biggest trend throughout the internet is the movement toward video. The people want video; give the people what they want.
Workplace communications are behind the times. Although email is a time suck, it’s still, by far, the dominant communication tool. Newsletters and company intranets are ignored for a reason — they’re not engaging. Instant messaging is good, but it’s all about productivity, never about fun.
Companies have the ability to communicate important information to their employees and incite engagement at the same time. We know how important engagement is to companies’ bottom lines; it’s time we start acting like it.
About Mark Sawyier
Mark Sawyier is co-founder and CEO of Bonfyre, a private social communication platform that is helping organizations build new levels of culture and engagement with employees. A passionate entrepreneur and an experienced business operator, Sawyier is a creative problem solver with expertise in product, strategy, and new business development.